Growing up on this big island and culturally embryonic country we call Australia, most of the TV and specifically cartoons I watched as a kid were imported from overseas. Of course cartoons from the U.S.A were the most prominent like many English speaking countries and hugely influential on Australian children including myself, but we also had regular doses of cartoons from our ‘mother country’ England and then increasingly more and more from our neighbours of the Asia-Pacific region, Japan. Add to the mix cartoons from Canada and throw in a dash of the occasional European import and that was our cartoon diet growing up. The era I am specifically referring to here is roughly from the years 1984 through 1994. A decade where my generation was fed some of the most memorable, forgettable, horrible and iconic TV cartoons from across the world all in the same sentence. I’m going to take my mind back to that period and recall from a child’s perspective what the different ‘flavours’ was of this cultural mish-mash we were beamed via out TV sets.
Still the most vivid and prominent in my mind. They certainly left an aftertaste or ‘buzz’. This is probably half to do with the fact that they seemed to make up a bulk of what we watched but also cos they seemed to have a lasting flavour, whether good or bad and even when bad you still kind of wanted more.
Cartoons from the U.S felt like Saturday mornings. They were fun, colourful and sugary. They were fruit loops for the eyes and bubblegum for the ears. You knew when an American cartoon came on that they really knew what they were doing. They had everything down. The exhilirating and catchy theme songs that would echo in your head for the whole day, the tie-ins to toys, cereals and happy meals and the somewhat expected yet satisfying and comforting formula that the episodes would play out using. These were not organic cartoons but highly synthesised, chemically enhanced and highly produced works that left others in their wake. They were processed and pre-wrapped in colourful packaging and tasted like that really fake strawberry flavour and smelt like that even more fake grape flavour. They were genetically modified cartoons with super strength, super fun and super colours. When i say colourful I mean it; Gummi Bears, the Wuzzles, The Smurfs, The Care Bears, Rainbow Bright, The Popples, Pound Puppies, Muppet Babies and Poochie are just some that spring to mind. They were soooo cute and soooo colourful and happy that it sort of made you want to scream at the TV with happiness. It was an anxious, sugar high happiness that made you want to run around the block laughing. The cartoons were also really tight like a well drilled pop rock group. They were fast, dynamic, pulsating with energy and usually had an element of wit or slapstick humour so they never really depressed. You wanted to hug the TV when they came on and you felt like these cartoons were hugging you back and grabbing your hand and pulling you in to play in their world. Even writing this entry, I have a smile and I’m typing really fast just remembering the feeling.
Obviously in addition the load of new stuff we were shown many of the American classics like Scooby Doo, Top Cat, Yogi Bear and the Bugs Bunny Show. I could tell these cartoons weren’t new like many of the others as they didn’t contain fluoro pink or pastel purple in their palettes but they just had pizazz. They felt like a really funny uncle, who was a bit old but still had it. They were entertainers in that vaudevillian way and that was never lost on me as a child.
Then of course was the action! in American cartoons. They did this better than anyone. He-Man, She-Ra, Dinosaucers, COPS, Bravestarr, Thundercats, Transformers and of course Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were all filled with this. It was like sugar mixed with steroids and it worked. It made you want those action figures so much that you felt you could tear down your bedroom wall if you didn’t get them.
I remember distinctly racing home on the afternoons to watch the Ninja Turtles with my brother and hearing that theme song was seriously akin to a hit of some sort of drug. it just made me feel so good. I would sing along to it, hold the action figure or trading cards in my hands while it was and not be able to wait until tomorrow’s episode. It was unlike any feeling I have ever felt since. A pure obsession and I had no idea this was so cleverly concocted like a synthetic flavour enhancer, so kids like me all around the world would be swept up in such an uncontainable fervor that they would be possessed to raid the toy stores for any bit of merchandise with a Ninja Turtle on it. It was Turtlemania and it cut through Australian culture like Leonardo’s katana blade through a foot soldier. It tasted like pizza (naturally), salty snack treats and ice cream all washed down with some invisible cola or some bizarre green ice cream/soda milkshake. This cartoon gave you acne even before you had hit puberty. It made boys into boy-men overnight. Ninja Turtles in a way spelled the end of the ‘ultra cute’ cartoon on our TVs and suddenly killer, mutant amphibians were among the poochies and puppies and everything around it suddenly felt so uncool in comparison,
Then of course came the new wave of American more adult, cheeky and witty cartoons; The Simpsons, Ren & Stimpy, Beavis & Butthead and Eek the Cat. We knew by this stage that these cartoons were American and anything American in the early to mid-90s in Australia was considered ultra cool. NBA, sneakers, rap music, toys even candy or as we say ‘lollies’ like push-pops came in and were so popular. But what made these cartoons cool were that they didn’t seem ‘kiddie’ and ‘lame’ like the care bear cartoons of yesteryear seemed by that time. They were the new crop and felt like they were made for me as an 10 or 11 year old who would rather play with a Super Soaker 20 than a fluffy toy. These cartoons even parodies the cutesy cartoons of the 80s in them.
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